Editor’s note: This blog post was originally published on Second Sense’s Second Opinions blog.
I have a small confession. Valentine’s Day has been a favorite holiday of mine since grade school.
Once January hits, I am already planning a party that somehow never gets thrown. Wrapped up amongst thoughts of pink-iced heart-shaped sugar cookies with cinnamon heart candies on them is an appreciation for the less silly and more intangible idea of a day when it is expected that you demonstrate your feelings to honor the lasting relationships in your life (a perfect time for said cookie).
This year I have been thinking a lot about vision loss support groups. I believe there is a natural connection between seeking and finding your Valentine and the experience of joining a vision loss support group.
According to Sally Connolly LCSW, LMFT, there are four stages in a dating relationship. I will borrow the titles of each stage to demonstrate the similarities.
Just as friends will press you to get out there and “meet someone” after a break-up, you may find yourself being encouraged by friends and family to seek out a support group after experiencing vision loss. As always, trust yourself, and do what feels right to you.
Stage 1: Initial Meeting/Attraction
In the process of adjusting to vision loss, there comes a point when you no longer want to be alone. You want to meet with others who can share the experience.
If you have a significant other, take them with you. They are also experiencing your vision loss in their own way and may also need to connect with others in the same situation.
Tip: Like dating, try to attend more than one vision loss support group. Play the field, so to speak. Every group has its own culture and flavor. It takes time to see if that particular group is for you. Be open to giving groups a second chance if you didn’t have a good experience at the first meeting. Like people, it takes time to get to know what a group is all about.
Stage 2: Infatuation
This stage is all about the positives. You feel like you have found “the one.” Your longings feel like they are about to be satisfied. A good connection with a welcoming, knowledgeable support group can feel like this. You can’t wait to be there. You think about it all the time. You feel buoyed by the support, stimulated by the new connections, and feel like you have found what has been missing in your life.
Tip: The very act of leaving the house to go to the support group meeting is good for you. Stimulation is good for the brain. Learn all you can from others at the support group. The more you know about coping with vision loss, the more choices you will have for yourself. Try to be open to forming new social connections.
Stage 3: Enlightenment and Becoming a Couple
“Hormones calm down and reality sets in” is part of the official description for this stage. Weaknesses and flaws are noticed in a person. This is where the cute habits suddenly become so annoying. When speaking of support groups, this is a period of disenchantment or sometimes of a plateauing. A big question arises in both relationships: Where is this all going?
Tip: When you have been a member of a group for a while, you may find yourself thinking about taking a break from it. This is okay. It is good to take some time for self-reflection to ask yourself if the group is still meeting your needs. You may come to realize you have gotten the support you needed when you needed it and now it is time to move on with your life. On the other hand, you may decide that being a part of the group is worth the time and effort as it gives you a sense of something (belonging? meaning in life?) that you experience nowhere else.
Stage 4: Commitment/Engagement
Couples at this stage of the relationship have a mutual understanding of each other’s values and goals for the future. They have learned to appreciate and accept their differences. There is open and honest communication about present plans and long term goals.
As a member of a support group, you have come to terms with any irritations you may experience with other group members or the way the group is run in favor of all the positive gains you experience. You know you won’t always agree with everything but deep down inside, you know this is a good place for you to be.
Tip: Once you have made the decision to be a part of a support group for the foreseeable future, don’t be afraid to step up and offer to help out. Be a mentor to a new member, help the leader think of new speakers or discussion topics; be open to sharing what you have learned. You will help yourself in ways you cannot imagine by helping others.
And think what a hit you will be if you bring that plate of cookies to the support group this Valentine’s Day.
If you are interested in starting a support group, check out the free downloadable manual Starting and Maintaining a Vibrant Vision Loss Support Group.